Fitness-tracking devices can do everything from calculate how many calories you burn to log how many hours you sleep each night. Often worn on the wrist or clipped onto a belt loop, activity trackers can teach you exactly how active — or inactive — you really are.
“They’re good to use if you’re interested in how many calories you burn, how much activity you’re doing each day, and how much time you spend being active,” says Sharrell Brown, M.S., ACSM-HFS, an exercise physiologist at Piedmont Atlanta Fitness Center.
“Some people may be surprised by how much — or how little — they’re doing,” she says.
As long as you are aware of your device’s limitations, she says, these gadgets can help you stay on track with your goals.
5 benefits of fitness devices
1. They keep you organized.
Activity trackers can monitor how many steps you take, how many calories you burn, how many hours you sleep and your heart rate, depending on the model you choose. While you could keep track of these numbers separately, devices can streamline the process. Many pair well with popular health apps, such as MyFitnessPal and SparkPeople.
2. They help you manage your progress.
If you are always tired or have hit a weight loss plateau, your fitness gadget can help you identify areas for improvement.
3. Many gadgets come with high-tech details.
Depending on your needs, you can find a gadget that is water- and sweat-proof, wireless, has a long battery life, and is easy to wear. Most sync to your computer so you can review your personalized data, such as how many calories you burned that week or how many hours you spent being active.
4. They give you a reality check.
While exercise does burn calories, it may not make as big of a dent as you think. For example, a mile on the treadmill may burn 115 calories, not the 500 you accounted for in your daily meal plan. A fitness-tracking device calculates your calorie expenditure based on your height, weight, movement and heart rate, depending on the model.
5. They’re more accurate than the calorie tally on cardio machines.
Cardio machines that have digital calorie estimates are notoriously inaccurate because many are programmed for men only or people at a different fitness level. Health devices calculate calorie burn based on movement and heart rate, so while the readings aren’t always 100 percent accurate, they are more personalized than a treadmill or elliptical.
3 tips for choosing and using a device
So you’ve decided to try a fitness-tracking tool? Just follow Brown’s recommendations for choosing the right device for your needs.
1. Read online reviews.
Comparison shop online to ensure you choose the right tool. Pay attention to user reviews about usability, pricing and unique features.
“Make sure reviewers are commenting on the device itself, not on issues they had with customer service,” adds Brown.
2. Know what you’re getting.
Features differ between devices. Generally, the less expensive the device, the fewer features it will have. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to get good results, just be sure to select a tool that has the features you want.
3. Be aware of your device’s limitations.
It can’t track how many calories you’re eating, just your activity level. Allow for a 5 percent margin of error because its readings may not always be totally accurate. Keep in mind that many devices haven’t been independently reviewed for effectiveness because they are so new.
Her advice: Pay attention to your body. If you are not meeting your weight loss goals, despite meeting the targets on your fitness device, you may need to make some further adjustments to your diet or exercise regimen.
While fitness-tracking devices aren’t necessary for weight loss success, they can keep you on track with your goals and aware of your progress.
See more fitness tips and advice.